I started in the swelter downtown, finding a perch on the stairs by the college and smoking cheap Columbian cigarettes in big hot gulps. Miami in the dog days is humid like the sky is leaning in on you, and everyone is foreign to everyone else. You watch them: a group of Cuban girls wearing brightly-colored nothing, swinging their hips as they go by; a red, sun-burnt beggar, claims he’s from Alaska, waiting for his sister to wire him some funds and any little bit would help in the meantime, really; an old man in soot-dusted purple robe, his whole hair a single defiant dreadlock, shuffling around corners waving his hands to the sides in rhythm with his curses and invocations. Somehow foreign isn’t ever foreign enough: you know these people, every one. Their weirdness is mere weirdness, is familiar. Mystery is what we crave, what we go out looking for, what we spend our lives waiting for. Even when we’ve given up, the habit of it is what causes us to rise each morning.
Time changes when you’re waiting for someone in a crowded place—breaks off into little glaring pieces. A few old Jewish women in wigs and long dresses are crouching up the steps up into a bus, with plastic bags full of fabric in their hands. The time changes and I’m a sense of myself, a wisp of pollen off the edge of a sun in full bloom. Waiting on the edge of space in a cloud of carbon monoxide, I’m a sensation of an idea of myself: me waiting for an unknown and unknowable not-me. Paranoia: the mind beside itself. Everywhere are fictions, verbs in the past tense swimming passively over brainwaves.
Waiting like this, you forget what you’re waiting for and start watching too deeply. A young mother bouncing her baby along brick sidewalk in its stroller, black smudges holding it in; a white kid goes by in polo shirt, nervously rubbing two of his fingers together in every step. You feel guilty, like a child watching its parent through the crack in the bathroom door at eight o’clock in the morning—everyone going on and you staying still. Everyone is out bustling, and here I am in the meantime merely waiting, playing the proud whale who has beached himself and is afraid.
In one of these extended moments, I saw her, and I followed. She was a little black skirt and a little white top wrapped around an Amazon rail of a twenty-something, deep brown skin stretched tall over square shoulders, narrow. She walked from the hip and I followed, trying to catch the scent of her thousand tight little pigtails and never catching it. Around the building and into the parking garage, up the elevator, and I followed. There was nothing really remarkable about her, and I followed anyway. This is the way things change. This is the way everything changes.
We were both parked on the fifth floor. Making our way down, two cars separated me from her little white Toyota, then three. Through a red light here or there and a couple of turns and I’m right behind her, the both of us through the whitewashed, picture-windowed design district and into Little Haiti. The area is suburban but crowded, people always standing in groups by the street, cooking on barbecue grills, waiting vaguely for poverty to end everywhere at once. The scene is quiet but menacing.
She pulls into a shady spot beneath a tree and I follow her lead, parking on the street a few spaces away from her with a car in between. I spend an extra long time playing with the meter, watching her little square breasts press out against her shirt as she chatters away with a bearded old man. They’re speaking the strange pseudo-French, Haitian Creole, vibrations rolling out of their mouths and dropping dead on the street. They both look over at me and I pretend to ignore them, making a trip around the car, ducking into the floorboards hunting for change. Everything is always changing, and nothing ever does.
Finally, over the meter, I watch her and the old man cross the street and fall in between a large round wooden double-door. For a moment I stand across the street, confused. Mystery is an increase in friction: any little breeze might completely sweep you away, might hijack your whole existence.
The enormous round doors are attached to the front of a big white box, with relief sculptures on either side: big red clay faces wearing horns, each one set in behind bars with its mouth pulled wide in a grimace, serpentine tongue extended. To each door is affixed a massive iron ring for a handle. With sweat rolling off my fingers in heavy drops, I reach out for one, and take hold of the thing.
For a moment it’s hot, then weightless. Blackness passes and the colors march by in regiment, losing their order like marbles rolling out from a kaleidoscope and into an ocean. Waves can only speak mathematics, the smooth run of surface through surface: can never tell you where you are or what. Eternity is an ocean that doesn’t care.
Time changes when you’re guilty and alone. In some clear morning, a rooster is crying, his eyes gouged out and hung from stars. The time changes and there is warmth and coldness, ice in the priestess’ mouth through rivers of hot white blood. Loa—Mystery—is the black mother in fifty robes speaking around ages’ orbits in marvel of sheer bended space. A razor falling off its own liquid edge, I am a sense of senselessness, a lost divine temple set out in the span of seconds. The whole room is illuminated around a central pillar, and I feel myself chanting on hard feet. Poteau-mitan, it’s called, and it is the liberty of trance at the center of the room, myself and the motions locked in dance. It is the point of communication between myself and other; I have memory of entire lifetimes spent in conversation.
My legs are older but stronger than before, loosing their sweat to the hem of my gown as I move. But there’s more that I can’t speak or think or dance. La langue n’est jamais exacte. It’s always two steps removed, always flowing out of some someone else’s mouth at exactly the time it feels it should be coming from your own. Demain aujourd’hui hier, the fiction of any of us, anywhere. We are shifting around together, trading skins, and nothing changes because it already has. Je tuerai ce soir. Je ne peux pas m’aider. J’ai tué aujourd’hui.
Matris, operor vos aspicio ut ego amor vos?
The mystery of mysteries, my ordinary girl, is dancing with me about the poteau-mitan. To each other we are spirits. I stop to watch her body heave above our little altar, her naked back flexing. She brings to me the book, enormous, swaying in her walk like a great dancing jungle cat. She is the mother of us all, the magic of dark places; she hoists the book up to her chest and passes it along to me with a kiss that is warm and wet and frightening.
The book is gigantic beneath my gray beard, written in a language no one has ever spoken, and which only I pronounce: there is wildness there—time changes into something that never was; I and she like king and queen are everywhere; my old hands scoop the pollen from the sun’s soft center; my tits are the hard milk of the African plains; my met tet is the gros bon ange of inextricable universe, the fabric of an old woman’s projections, the child lost to stained hampers in the endless heat.
Perched between the parchment pages is a dove, white, like the ones outside. I can feel the strain building in my biceps for a moment before I begin to see it happen, and am utterly possessed: the book closes, hard, and the animal is crushed, lost in blood and spirit. The mystery is unreadable; the lines have run together. I am Ahab, slaughtering myself from inside my own enormous belly. The time changes and I was a verb, and now I am only a fiction.